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The Story of Leah Dudman-Bar and Chana Podversky from a conversation with Leah Dudman

(Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan and Gil Benjamin Villa)

At first I was sent by the Judenrat to work in the army camp near Bogdonova. I worked there baking bread for the Germans and from there I was transferred to the army camp in Podberze. Together with me all the time there was another Vishnevan girl by the name of Chana Podversky, the daughter of Itza-Lebl Podversky. The usual procedure was that every Sunday we would go home and the German commandant treated us almost like a father. He had six daughters and he always emphasized that fact and loved to converse with us. Most of the times when we would go home he would drive us in his car so he could take some food supplies for my family. At more than one occasion he entered our home and saw with his own eyes the suffering of my parents. With tears in their eyes they begged him to save me and my sister Raisel. He promised he would do whatever he could.

On that awful Sunday he also took us as usual to our house and as we neared the gate of the ghetto, we saw thousands of Christians gathering around one of the homes. We also saw a dark haze and smoke reaching up to the skies, and there were screams. At first we thought it was some Christian person who had died, and my friend and I whispered to each other, "They deserve it" or something like this. But when we came closer to the ghetto gate, a Christian woman stopped the car and screamed as loud as she could, "In the name of God, get out of here. In town they are slaughtering everyone."

The commandant and the soldier said to us, "Immediately get out of the car and run to your work place. We will go inside the gate and see what is happening there."

When they returned they told us that when they arrived there the SS people who were surrounding the town forced them to take part in the annihilation and the killing of all the Jews of the town. And that was not all; they ordered them to bring us there, and if they didn’t the commandant would be punished. The soldier who was with him the entire day witnessing the torture told us what he saw with tears in his eyes. From all the awful sights he saw he now was vomiting and had diarrhea the entire day.

The commandant immediately told us he would not give us up no matter what. He suggested that for this night we sleep there but early in the morning we must run to one of the Christians that we knew and he would keep in touch with us. We did as he told us and we reached the Christian man and hid in his house for a few days but when things became more dangerous since the SS troops looked for us everywhere including where we worked, and in the sheds, and in the place we were hiding. It was a miracle they didn’t find us. So he transferred us to a Polish woman’s house where we hid for 6 weeks. At the end the Christian man made a communication between us and the Jews from Kerve who would go to work in Bogdonova. Since now the Jews of Vishnevo were annihilated and a few others went to the forest. So now they were replaced in Bogdonova.

Now he told us that at one time when they returned from work to Kerve, they should take us with them. The person who drove them was a Jew named Shlomo Horwitz, a native of Kerve, who now lives in Farvitkin (1970). Shlomo Horwitz did as he was told and let us go in the car and we arrived in the ghetto of Kerve. I must emphasize that the situation in the ghetto of Kerve was different from that of most of the neighboring towns’ ghetto. Their commandant truly defended them and he lived in the ghetto. He knew everything that was done and everything they planned to do. They didn’t hide anything from him, and he took care of all the people who wanted to annihilate them. Whenever the people above him asked him to annihilate the Jews, he said he needed his Jews because that they still hadn’t finished building the roads or the airport that he planned to build near the town. And as others told, the Sunday when the Jews of Vishnevo were annihilated, he was with all his Jews who worked in Bogdonova and Vishnevo, and he was witness to the massacre of the Jews of Vishnevo. He succeeded in saving the lives of his Jews from the SS, claiming that they were very needed workers.

As soon as he found out about us, and he found out about us immediately since he lived with the Jews in the ghetto, he called us and told us about the destruction of the Jews of our town, and all that he saw with his own eyes.

"You were left alone and orphaned. You must do everything to stay alive so you can tell the future generations to what they did to the Jews of Vishnevo." He also told us, while deeply sighing, as if it was his own terrible tragedy, "I am also an orphan and have been one since I was a little child, with no mother and father, alone in the world. It was only because I had such a strong desire and stubbornness to survive no matter what, that I am alive today."

He knew that people didn’t want us in the ghetto, so he ended the conversation by saying, "I will defend you and find you some shelter." He gave us some food supplies and said that we should come to him if we had any trouble.

As I said before the fate of the Jews of Kerve was very different from the others’, and they did not experience tragedy at that point. But finally, when most of the jobs were done, many were spread out to different working camps. Most went to the camp in Zazmir. At one point we were also sent by the Judenrat of Kerve to this camp instead of two local Jewish guys whose turn it was to be sent. Here there were thousands of people, remnants of ghettoes from Oshmina, Svir, Kerve, and other towns that were destroyed or were waiting to be destroyed. They were busy with paving roads, so Nachamka and I also worked on paving roads. We were barefoot and starving with torn clothes and we worked at this hard labor until we became sick with typhus, which was spreading throughout the camp. After two weeks of very high fever we knew that we would survive and our fever finally broke. Slowly we felt better and again we were sent to work.

Here there was a very tough survival situation. People were starving. There was a very limited food supply, and the Germans were very cruel. They would torture us even while waiting to get food supplies. We would stand in line and they would come and slap us and hit us with their hands and with their rubber bats. After a few months there, this camp was also shut down and the workers were transferred to different places, some to the Kovno ghetto, others to Vilna’s, and the older ones were annihilated.

First we were sent to Kovno and then to the camp in Kosoder. Here we worked in mines. The guards of this camp were Ukrainian and Russian "volunteers" (they were also prisoners). They were allowed to carry weapons and every time they received weapons there they would take it out of the cars. They treated us sort of rough, but it wasn’t torturous. Whenever they saw us they would say to us, "Why aren’t you trying to escape or fight the Germans?" They couldn’t understand why we, the Jewish people, were letting the Germans torture us like this.

"Why weren’t we trying to escape from the camp?"

We didn’t answer them because we were suspicious they were just messengers for the Germans. One of them was a very large, strong man. He was cruel and mean to us, but once when I met him he said to me, "Why aren’t you running to the forest?" I didn’t answer, but one night, when we were already asleep after a day of hard labor, we heard sounds of shooting and explosives. We woke up in panic and when we came outside we saw a sight that for us looked like a scene from hell: all the barbed wire that surrounded our camp was destroyed and the Germans, headed by the commander from a neighboring camp, surrounded us, standing one behind the other with rifles ready to shoot. When they saw us (the Jews) the commander said, "Stay in your places. If you are quiet no harm will come to you."

The next day we found out what had happened: the Russian and Ukrainian "volunteers" who always spoke to us about escaping and revolting, they planned to do the same thing themselves. So one day, when they were sent to unload a large amount of weapons, they took the weapons and they killed the commandant. They cut all the barbed wire around and ran to the forest. Months later we met with them again in the forest when we did the same thing. This deed by the so-called "volunteers" didn’t pass without a deep impression on us. This symbolized what we should do in the future. But at this point we continued to work until days of selection and annihilation arrived at the camp. First they took the old people, and once they were killed they took the middle-aged people and only the younger people stayed. Before we left they started taking out the children, pulling them out of their parents’ arms. In this camp there were many families with children.

I still remember the Jew who was the gruppefuhrer, a Jew from Czechoslovakia, very intelligent and clever who spoke perfect German and English. The Germans ordered him to bring the children, who they pretended they were going to take to a special camp, but the parents didn’t trust them and they were very suspicious that the children would be sent to be killed. Fearing that fate, they went to the gruppefuhrer and begged him to talk to the Germans to cancel their order. He immediately explained that he had already begged and there was nothing he could do, and that they would not listen to him. When finally he couldn’t take their begging anymore, he was the first to give his adopted son to the Germans.

"There is nothing I can do," he said to the parents who surrounded him.

At that moment he became unrecognizable. His face whitened and he fainted, falling to the ground. When we saw the sending of the children, the young people, men and women of the camp, about 40 to 50 people, decided that we must immediately escape. While we were sent to take supplies off the trains outside the camp we escaped. Several times shortly before the escape we met some partisans who came to the area and encouraged us to escape to the forest and join them. When we decided we immediately contacted them and escaped to the forest. Here we met with a Russian partisan by the name of Zafubiada, and together with them we became a partisan group by the name Zasvabada. This was sometime at the end of 1943. We had contacts with Moscow and following their instructions we carried out sabotage missions against the Germans.

The year of 1944 came and the Russians were rapidly approaching our area. An order came from Moscow that we should attack the Germans from behind their lines, and that’s what we did. Finally, one day we met up with the Red Army at about a distance of one and a half days from Vilna. We received a lot of weapons from them, and together with them we entered the city of Vilna.

The city was almost entirely destroyed. Thousands of bodies were lying on the streets. There were very fierce battles between the Russians and Germans until the Germans retreated to the border and from there to Berlin with the Russians following them. But in the Vilna area there were still small groups of German troops hiding in bunkers, and together with the regular Red Army we fought them and killed them one by one.

After a few months in Vilna when there was already regular civil authority in this part of the Soviet Union we returned to Vishnevo. Here we met with Gdaliyau Dudman and Kokin who came earlier. Together we went to the killing field. The entire area was filled with bones and we ordered the Christian people to put a fence around it. We dug graves for our brothers and put their bones inside. On top of the grave we put a memorial made of stone. We stood next to it and with tears in our eyes said goodbye to our dear ones.

From Vishenevo we moved to Volozhin and started working for the civil service. But slowly we were more and more determined that we must leave the area that was the valley of death for millions of our brothers. We must go to Israel. The atmosphere around us was filled with hate and poisonous anti-Semitism. Secretly we left Volozhin to go to Bialystock, and from there to go to Krakow. We were there on May 8, 1945 when the announcement was made of the end of the war. From here we continued to Warsaw and from there to Lublin where we crossed the border to Hungary. From there to Romania, to Bucharest. After travel for half a year, finally we left in a Romanian ship going to Israel, arriving on the 26th of October, 1945.

Here in Israel through all the years we kept meeting with all the people we met in the ghettoes and in the camps and who succeeded in coming to Israel. Two years ago we met in Israel the Czechoslovakian Jew who was our gruppefuhrer. He told us that after our group fled to the forest, the rest of the camp was annihilated and that he was sent to the ninth fort in Kovno, an underground bunker. Here they would take all the Jews who were murdered in the surrounding area to be burned. The people who burned the bodies were Jews who were all the time shackled so they would not escape. Only very few, he amongst them, were able to escape from there. When he was finally free he left for the US. In the US he became a wealthy and respected person.

We spent the evening talking to him about memories from those dark days. We drank "L’chaim" for Israel and the Jewish nation that outlived Hitler and we hoped that all the haters of Zion would find the same fate.